This blog continues my reading of Isaiah 1-39 in the Complete Jewish Bible translation.
For see! The Lord God of armies
will remove from Yerushalayim and Y’hudah
every kind of support —
all reserves of food and water;
2 heroes and warriors, judges and prophets,
diviners and leaders, 3 captains of fifty,
men of rank and advisers,
skillful magicians and expert enchanters.
4 I will put children in authority;
capriciousness will govern them.
5 People will oppress each other —
everyone his friend, everyone his neighbor.
The young will be insolent toward their elders,
the worthless toward the respected.
6 A man will take hold of his brother
in his father’s house and say,
“You have a coat, so rule us!
Take charge of this ruin!”
7 But on that day, he will protest,
“I don’t have a remedy,
I lack food and clothing for my own house;
don’t put me in charge of people!”
8 For Yerushalayim is ruined,
and Y’hudah has fallen;
because their words and deeds defy the Lord
in open provocation of his glory.
Scholars assign this prophecy to around 735 BCE when the young Ahab succeeded as king and near anarchy resulted in Judah. The basic necessities of food and water are scarce, and the social and political blessings of brave, skilled and wise people are removed. Nobody acts according to justice or kindness, and the older and wiser people are despised by the worthless youth.
The little drama of the man who wants his brother as king is satirical. It questions if any sane person would want to rule this nation. Doubtless the situation was in no way as bad as this, but Isaiah was asking his hearers to imagine where it was going. There would be just enough truth in his exaggeration for his words to carry conviction.
He sings a lament for his own fallen nation, which has defied the wisdom of its God. The “open provocation” of the translation is literally “in the eyes of his glory” – glory meaning the presence of the Lord, who sees what his people are doing.
The prophetic tradition, already established when Isaiah took up his calling, demanded that the prophets be aware of the leadership of the court and the condition of the people, judging them according to their own contact with a holy God, whose love and anger is expressed in their vivid words. It’s not a job many would want. It stands however as a permanent rebuke to every form of spirituality which retreats to a private realm where people can feel good, while neglecting issues of truth and justice in society.
The prayer meeting is only holy if it makes us better able to see, for example, what the UK government is doing to the poor.